Pubdate: Mon, 23 May 2016
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2016 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Authors: Aaron Gregg and Fenit Nirappil, The Washington Post


Maryland's state medical marijuana commission delivered a blow to
marijuana advocates and would-be entrepreneurs last week by abruptly
capping the number of businesses that can process marijuana into
pills, oils and other products.

The commission also gave conflicting information about when the first
long-awaited growing licenses would be issued, with executive director
Patrick Jameson first saying it would be late summer or early fall,
then stating that licenses would come "weeks" after the evaluations of
the applications are completed in early July.

At the commission's first public meeting in months, marijuana
advocates and entrepreneurs complained about the slow pace and the
secrecy of the process.

"We have been waiting patiently for the commission to do its work, but
every day is a challenge when you're watching your child seize, fall
behind in school and lose ground," said Jennifer Porcari, who has
fought for years for access to medical cannabis to treat her child's
epilepsy. "We ask you to remember that the work of this commission is
to help Marylanders and children like our daughter."

An analysis by the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project found
Maryland to be among the slowest states to get its approved cannabis
program up and running. The commission was supposed to start awarding
licenses to grow marijuana for medical use in January. But the
commission received applications from twice as many businesses as it
anticipated, and the timetable has changed several times. Executive
director Hannah Byron abruptly announced her resignation in December
and wasn't replaced until this month.

The commission, which declined to comment on its pace, has extended by
four months its contract with the Regional Economics Studies Institute
at Towson University in suburban Baltimore, which is managing a
committee of two dozen evaluators that is reviewing and scoring the
applications. Records show that the cost of the contract has
quadrupled, to more than $2 million.

Towson is expected to deliver scored applications in July to the
15-person commission, which has the final say in who gets licenses.
Given the time needed to grow and process cannabis, medical marijuana
probably will not be available in the state until the summer of 2017.

The delays are costing businesses money, entrepreneurs and their
allies said. "There are applicants who have lost financing; there are
applicants who have lost options on leases; there are applicants who
are paying mortgages on buildings that they acquired with an
expectation originally of [licenses being awarded in] January," said
Terrence McAndrews, an attorney in suburban Baltimore.

The commission voted last week to limit the number of processors to
15. The change was suggested by commission member Harry Robshaw III,
police chief in the Prince George's County, Md., town of Cheverly, and
adopted unanimously after minimal discussion. State law already
limited the number of growing licenses to 15.

Chief Robshaw said the cap on processors would make it easier for
regulators to carry out inspections and could be lifted later as the
industry matures.

But it also means businesses that win licenses to grow but not process
marijuana could have to pay another company for something they had
initially planned to handle in-house. Several applicants complained
that restricting licenses for processors would make it harder to track
cannabis from seed to sale, a unique provision built into Maryland's
law and designed to protect patients by cutting down on tampering and
diversion of the product.

"There's a concern that this was done arbitrarily, long after the
applications have been submitted," said Kate Bell, an analyst with the
Marijuana Policy Project who attended the packed commission meeting at
the University of Maryland Medical School last week. "It's not clear
to me what the basis is for imposing this limit."

The intentionally opaque evaluation process has left some advocates
and entrepreneurs asking for more clarity, with one demanding a public
schedule showing when regulators meet behind closed doors.

The commission appointed experts in subjects including horticulture
and medicine to review and score the applications. The process is
double-blind, meaning all names are redacted from the materials that
experts review, and the identities of those experts are kept secret.
Towson says the subject-matter experts submitted resumes and signed
affidavits saying they had no relationships to Maryland applicants
before they were selected.

In public comments last week, numerous applicants demanded more
transparency from the commission.

Angeline Nanni, chief executive of prospective grower CannaMED
Pharmaceuticals, said making the evaluation process more public would
"negate any type of behind-closed-doors selection irregularities and
possibly prevent post-selection litigation."

Commission chair Paul Davies said the group has set up a task force
and plans a meeting in July to clarify portions of the process.

There were also complaints that Mr. Jameson, the commission's new
executive director, and a top Towson official involved in the
marijuana-license contract discussed the program this month before a
small group at the Center Club, the Baltimore dining club frequented
by Maryland's business elite.

Center Club president David Nevins organized a roundtable discussion
with the Towson official and a grower applicant who is represented by
Mr. Nevins's public relations firm.

"We believe [this is] not only a conflict of interest but will quite
possibly compromise the integrity of this application process," said
Scott Williams, who described himself as a consultant working with
more than one applicant.

Daraius Irani, the Towson official who appeared with Mr. Jameson, said
his remarks were reviewed by the state attorney general's office and
that he is not directly involved in evaluating applications.

Del. Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, who was instrumental in
passing medical marijuana laws and attended the Center Club event,
said he "didn't realize it would be controversial. I'll go to any
meeting where there's an opportunity to talk about [medical marijuana]
and change minds."
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D